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Greater emphasis needed on context in which exam results are achieved, not just results themselves


The Office for Students’ Insight Brief on Contextual Admissions

The OfS found that students from the most disadvantaged backgrounds are 15 times less likely to enter the most selective universities than their peers from the most advantaged backgrounds. UCU said it wanted universities to take factors such as background, race and where students live into account.

Responding to the report on university admissions from the Office for Students (OfS), the University and College Union (UCU) said greater emphasis was needed on the context in which exam results are achieved and not just the results themselves. 

The union also said it was time for a complete overhaul of the university admissions system and welcomed a commitment from the OfS in its 2019-2020 business plan, released earlier this week, to review admissions.

UCU acting general secretary Paul Cottrell said:

“Greater and better use of the context in which exam results are achieved is needed if we want to make access to university fairer. Not all exam achievements are equal and universities should not treat them as such. There needs to be much greater use of contextual data so that students progress according to their achievements and potential. 

“We welcome the OfS’s commitment to a review of university admissions and want to see a system where university offers are made based on students’ achievements and not predicted grades. At the moment, there is too much guesswork involved with teachers, students and university assessors all working on information that is neither reliable nor valid. 

“The OfS should be bold and explore a post-qualification admissions system which would bring us in line with the rest of the world.”

Clare Marchant, UCAS’ Chief Executive said:

“All students, regardless of their background, should have a fair opportunity to study at university. I encourage universities and colleges to use our contextual data services, particularly our multiple equality measure (MEM), which is more effective than focusing on single measures of disadvantage, such as a student’s postcode.

“Using contextual data and self-declared information from the UCAS application form, including an applicant’s personal statement and reference, helps admissions staff to paint a truer and fuller picture of a student’s potential to succeed on their chosen course.

“Our annual equalities data publication also helps universities and colleges to benchmark their progress in widening access and participation, as well as supporting our commitment to transparency in admissions.”

Chapter 8 of the UCAS 2018 End of Cycle report includes analysis of accepted applicants by MEM group in England.

All universities and colleges are invited to use UCAS’ new modernised contextual data service, which uses the principles behind our multiple equality measure (MEM) to code applications by representation level. This free service is in addition to the existing contextual data service which includes historic data, going back to 2008, about an applicant’s school or college – supplied by education departments across the UK. It also provides local area data in the form of POLAR2, POLAR3, and the Scottish Index of Multiple Deprivation (SIMD).

STROBE is a real-time service from UCAS which allows universities, and other organisations, to undertake an evidence-based assessment of the effectiveness of their outreach activities.

UCAS publishes annual equalities data on offer rates and entry rates for 132 of the largest universities and colleges. This data helps universities benchmark their progress in widening participation and access, as well as being significant to UCAS’ commitment to transparency in admissions.

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